The ‘þjóðhátíðardagur’ celebration on 17 June
Iceland broke away from the Denmark in 1944 and ever since the nation has celebrated its independence on the 17th of June, the birthday of the freedom fighter Jón Sigurðsson.
Today, the celebration is the light version of nationalistic fervor. The main ceremony is in Reykjavík on Austurvöllur Square, outside the Alþingi parliament, with a speech from the Prime Minister and a parade led by the scout movement (Iceland has no military, remember).
Some towns celebrate inside sport centers to avoid the wet June weather, characterizing the day ever since the historic 1944 ceremony remembered by guests for pouring rain.
At the time, Iceland had already been a sovereign state for two decades. That sovereign treaty from 1918 had, however, left foreign affairs and defense in the hands of Denmark similar to Greenland and the Faroes Islands.
The agreement with Denmark was to have vote on complete independence in 1944 and when the day came only 377 people, a fractional percentage, voted in favor of remaining in the Danish kingdom. Voter turnout was 98.4 percent overall, reaching 100 percent in two districts.
By breaking off completely from Denmark, the king of Denmark was no longer Iceland’s head of state. The Republic of Iceland would meet and greet other state leaders with its own president at the top.
From a political standpoint, the 1918 sovereignty milestone was a much larger victory. But it happened in December. Outdoor celebrations with balloons, face-paint and flags are tricky that time of year!
The birthday of Jón Sigurðsson (1811 - 1879), the nineteenth-century politician who defined the case for Iceland’s statehood, matched a more convenient day of celebration.
Jón was born on Hrafnseyri in the Westfjords but moved to Copenhagen as a student. He was a prolific academic but never finished his degree. Iceland’s independence consumed him.
Freedom fighters before him had based their argument on romantic nationalism. They wanted to restore the Alþingi parliament at the original Þingvellir site, while the pragmatic Jón was firm on Reykjavík as its location.
Jón's bronze statue is appropriately placed in front of parliament, towering over a cheering crowd on the 17th of June.